Monday, 8 August 2011
Long Words and Unfortunate Aunts
We're going to have a week of posts on long, jormungandrian words. And we shall start with the dead relative of a Khoekhoe king.
The Khoekhoe are a people of Southern Africa. Like their their neighbours, the San, they use a peculiar clicking sound in their language that sounds utterly alien to European ears. This is probably the reason that Dutch explorers called them stutterers or Hottentots. If you want to read some other theories about the etymology follow this link.
The word Hottentot spread among European languages, probably just because it's such a lovely word to say aloud, and thus it got into German. The German language is remarkably open to the formation of compound words, and making up long silly ones is something of a parlour game beyond the Rhine. So, though the word was only invented as a tongue twister, Hottentottenpotentatentantenattentat is a perfectly viable German word. It means the assassination of the aunt of a Hottentot pontentate. Tante is aunt and attentat is assassination.
It's 36 letters long, but only uses 7 letters to get there. Incidentally, the adjective of Hottentot is, or can be, Hottentotic.
And here is a useful video on how to do the clicky sounds.